Lester Flatt - Biography
By J Poet
Lester Flatt is one of Bluegrass music’s founding fathers. During his long career with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and The Foggy Mountain Boys he took bluegrass from the southern mountains to Carnegie Hall and the international stage.
Before starting the Foggy Mountain Boys, Lester Flatt’s rhythm guitar playing and bass runs formed the rhythmic backbone of Bill Monoe’s Bluegrass Boys. Lester Flatt was born in 1914 into a family of pickers. His father tried to teach him banjo, but he preferred guitar and by seven was playing and singing in church. He married early and sang in a duo with his wife Gladys, while working days in various textile mills. In 1940, Clyde Moody, who had a show on WBBB in Burlington, hired him. In 1943, he was playing mandolin and singing high harmonies with Bill Monroe’s brother Charlie in Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Pardners. In early 1945, Bill Monroe hired Flatt for his Bluegrass Boys as lead singer and rhythm guitarist. Right after Scruggs joined the Bluegrass Boys, they played the Grand Ole Opry and immediately became crowd favorites. When Earl Scruggs became the new banjo player for the Bluegrass Boys, the two hit it off from the start.
Flatt and Scruggs disliked touring, despite being part of one of the hottest bands in country music. They quit the Bluegrass Boys in early 1948, but the idea of going back to work in the mills was unappealing. They were soon back on the road with The Foggy Mountain Boys, and played together for 20 years, logging countless miles on the road and away from home. When Scruggs suggested adding modern touches to the music, including a drummer, Flatt said no and the band splintered. After the Foggy Mountain Boys disbanded, Flatt formed The Nashville Grass with several ex-band members and continued playing, faithful to the traditional sound of the music. He toured and recorded with his new band, for ten years, until he died in 1979.
Flatt’s post Foggy Mountain albums include Flatt Out (1970 Columbia), Flatt on Victor (1971 RCA) with the Nashville Grass, Nashville Airplane (1970 Columbia), Lester 'n' Mac (1971 RCA) with ex-Foggy Mountain Boy guitarist and singer Mac Wiseman, Kentucky Ridge Runner (1972 RCA) with the Nashville Grass, Foggy Mountain Breakdown (1972 RCA), On the South Bound (1973 RCA) with Wiseman, Country Boy (1973 RCA), Lester Flatt Live: Bluegrass Festival with Bill Monroe (1973 RCA), Over the Hills to the Poorhouse (1973 RCA) with Wiseman, Before You Go (1974 RCA) with the Nashville Grass, Flatt Gospel (1975 Canaan) with the Nashville Grass featuring Marty Stewart, Tennessee Jubilee (1975 Flying Fish), and Lester Raymond Flatt (1975 Flying Fish) with the Nashville Grass. Flatt on Victor (1999 Bear Family Germany) is a box set that includes all his solo and Nashville Grass recordings for RCA and Columbia on six discs, including the complete concert with Bill Monroe from 1973. Live at Vanderbilt (2002 Bear Family Germany) gives you the concert with Bill Monroe on a single disc. Flatt was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985 with Scruggs and The Foggy Mountain Boys. He was an inaugural inductee into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1991.